So Garry Trudeau goes on the list.
The thing that struck me was how Trudeau was able to say nothing original at all but merely regurgitate some tired and already discredited tropes. Here they are, following each is what I have previously said about them:
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.
‘Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’
Well, when the issue came up of the Danish cartoons I observed that the test I apply to something to see whether it truly is satire derives from HL Mencken’s definition of good journalism: it should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. The trouble with a lot of so-called “satire” directed against religiously-motivated extremists is that it’s not clear who it’s afflicting, or who it’s comforting.
Note that in Self’s quote Mencken is talking of ‘good journalism’ and Self is asking what is ‘truly satire’. So let us say it is bad satire. That is a taste judgement, a value judgement. Either this is totally irrelevant to the free speech or solidarity argument and therefore shouldn’t be there or it is yet again part of the refusal to lay the blame on those with the weapons. Another surreptitious attempt at victim blaming. Like if their satire had been ‘good’ or ‘proper’ they still would be breathing.
This is all part of the ‘punching downward’ line. Which is not being used in a relevant way. But even if it were, I disagree with the premise:
Was Charlie Hebdo attacking all ‘Muslims’ or the religion itself? It is not the same thing. And attacking jihadists is not attacking ‘Muslims’ either, but merely Jihadist Muslims.
How often have you heard this week that they were offending 1.6 billion people? Well, if that is true then I think a religious figure important to 1.6 billion people is pretty powerful. It is punching upwards. How many people would come to violently avenge an insult to Stephane Charbonnier? None I am assuming. Is that not a measure of power? Be careful claiming a billion offended victims while trying ‘powerlessness’ in the same argument.
Islam is a system of power, like Christianity. To mock its tenets and its characters is punching upwards and it is satire. And mocking the tenets is not to mock Muslims en masse. Many racists are poor and alienated, was Charlie Hebdo punching downwards when it mocked Marine LePen or racist attitudes in general? No. So stop being silly.
We must not let the ‘punching downwards’ stand on factual grounds, they weren’t, or on taste grounds, it is irrelevant. The continued use of it is yet another form of victim blaming.
Side note: Telling us 1.6 billion Muslims are offended does no favours to those Muslims that aren’t. It will make those that believe it look upon all Muslims as irrational when they are not and will renforce the Us vs Them narrative. It doesn’t take a genius to work this out so surely those that advance that line for their own arguments are unserious about their stated desires of progress and cohesion?
“The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.”
False comparisons and whataboutary
Another entirely false comparison. Mocking Islam is not the same as antisemitism. Why? Because anti-Judaism is not the same as antisemitism. They were not abusing all Muslims but the main character in their story, therefore the comparison is false. Charlie Hebdo mocked the god of the Old Testament, this should be enough to qualify as a fair comparison. They weren’t murdered for it.
What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility.
‘With free speech comes responsibility’
Now I agree rights come with responsibilities. They have to. But what are these responsibilities? I assumed it was ensuring you don’t try and repress the right of others to express themselves and that our responsibility is to ensure there is a free space in the public sphere for expressing ourselves without fear of violence. Perhaps it is to keep things fair and honest, to not employ demagogic language and engage in sophistry. Responsibilities the people examined here singularly fail to live up to.
It is telling that he doesn’t chose to explain what that responsibility is. Few do. Once however, when forced, he did have a stab at it. This was when he was previously discussing Charlie Hebdo. He [Mehdi Hasan] said:
…with rights come responsibilities and I’m saying in a society where we all have to rub along together, where we all come from different backgrounds you have a responsibility not to go out of your way to piss people off, to try and kick off a riot etc. etc. put the law to one side…
Remember, Mehdi loves Mohammed more than his own family, I understand this is emotive for him and that he might feel as far as he is concerned that offense = riot. But who thinks Charlie Hebdo was indeed trying to kick off a riot? I know they’re French but was that really the purpose of their satire? Was it merely to piss people off rather than target power or hypocrisy? Mehdi should be asked.
Either Mehdi is saying that Muslims are so basic they will inevitably riot (he isn’t), or he uses this tactic to condemn the offending of religious sensibility with a strawman. We know he would rather Mohammed wasn’t depicted in satire, in this example he got as far as saying he shouldn’t be, but he refuses to say he shouldn’t be because such subjects should be socially protected from satire. He is merely implying a protection. It’s clear this is what he is doing yet he has stated he isn’t doing it. This is shifty. Motte and Bailey. And in doing so he reduces Muslims to an ‘other’ who just cannot hold their temper. Shameful.
At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.
This is like ‘fundamentalist atheist’. The cheap attempt to make you just the same as those you oppose. So adherence to secularism is the equal of adherence to religious dogma.
Once again we turn to Will Self:
The whole notion seems to be that free speech is some kind of absolute right and that’s exactly the same as a religious point of view interestingly, it places human ethics outside of human society…
Self teaches ‘Modern Thought’ and unfortunately for our future that seems appropriate.
It’s another strawman because I know of no ‘absolutists’ beyond a barely heard bunch of crazies. But ok, if an absolutist exists, my claims in Part 1 of this piece mean I must be one of the closest to one. Is it like a religious point of view to me? No. I think the right of a human to freely express themselves, although a beautiful and luminescent idea, is founded on a utilitarian basis rather than a supernatural or dogmatic one. My support is not from ‘faith’.
For the sake of argument though let us grant Self and others the premise and call this belief in free speech or secularism a religion [or even fanaticism]. My erstaz religion, in power, allows for maximum freedom of thought and expression, actual religions require the opposite. And Self’s implied middle way requires the state or/and supposed enlightened complex-thinkers such as he to adjudicate between groups and measure and judge offence. When compared thus his line of attack makes little headway. It’s not true and if true it loses. It does however obscure clear thinking behind clever sounding bollocks. Which Self does very well. I presume this is why this view is popular with many modern intellectuals. When faced with a simple moral standpoint that is difficult to live by and a complicated one that is easy, they will choose the latter all too often.
This final one I hadn’t specifically dealt with before:
…which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voilà—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.
Note how he shifts from ‘incitement’ to ‘triggering’. These are simply different things. People rioting due to offence may well have been ‘incited’ but by those that wish to see riots not by those whose output was deemed offensive. This is a sly word game on Trudeau’s part and as similar to what I indicated above, it reduces Muslims to people so simple that murderous rioting is simply outside the bounds of free will and responsibility.
I don’t know what to be more angry about, the victim blaming, the failure to show solidarity, the unoriginality or the rank stupidity.
In recycling my old piece I am reminded of a correction from Jamie Palmer regarding the ‘comfort the afflicted’ quote. I lazily took Self’s word for it regarding the origin of that line (a severe oversight considering the source). It wasn’t in fact from Mencken.
As Palmer wrote in his rather excellent piece:
Furthermore, the job of the satirist is to scorn hypocrisy, double-standards, fallacious reasoning, and pomposity wherever it occurs and without political prejudice. That Self would prefer it if satire were a kind of comedy-activism, preferably mocking only those deserving of his own contempt, is beside the point. H. L. Mencken is of no use to Self here since (a) the quotation he cites is misattributed and originally intended to satirise journalistic moral vanity not endorse it, (b) journalism is not the same as satire, and (c) in any case, journalism ought to concern itself with the pursuit of truth, not the affliction of comfort.